As a new dentist building a career, requests for recommendations may come up for residency applications or job applications. It is important to learn about the art of asks, as this will serve you well in the span of your professional career.
When we ask for a favor, whether it is big or small, there are a few very important factors to consider:
Be polite, professional, concise but detailed in your request. State clearly the purpose of the request, should it be a recommendation letter, request for a presentation or an opportunity to collaborate. State the purpose of the request and how this person can best reach you to discuss. Don’t go overly casual unless you know this person very well on the personal level. Social media often can render a false sense of closeness. When it comes to working interactions, staying professional is the best way to go. Emails are most formal for requests. If you private message someone, make sure it is a convenient hour for the time zone this person resides. Asking a favor with a 5 a.m. private message can be viewed as intrusive.
Be prepared for a rejection and always thank the person for replying. No one is obligated to write a recommendation for you just because you know each other. That is the harsh truth. If you are asking a prominent figure who holds important positions, chances are, he or she is extremely busy and cannot possibly say “Yes” to everything. Do not assume that if you know this person, he or she is obligated to do a favor. Sometimes our personal goals don’t align. Sometimes we just have too many personal obligations. Take rejections gracefully and move on. It is not necessary to take it personally as, “This person dislikes me.” There might be other opportunities in the future to collaborate, but the timing for this task may be less ideal at this time.
Be considerate of the other party’s time and always offer to return the favor in the future. When asking a favor, be sure you know how much time commitment is required from the other party. Would this peer review form take 10 minutes? Would this book review take four weeks? Would this presentation take the other party 40 hours of preparation? Any favor that takes time and work should be asked way ahead of the estimated time. As my personal rule of thumb, I typically double the time of estimated work when I ask for a favor because things may be delayed on the other end. You never know the obligations the other party has in his or her personal life, so always be thankful when someone says yes to help you. If the other party accepts your invite, be sure to offer to return the favor in the future and say something along the lines of, “If there is anything I could do for you in the future, please do not hesitate to ask, and stay in touch. Thank you for doing this.” A hand-written thank-you note or a small gift, if appropriate, can be a good idea. If financial compensation is viable, such as asking a speaker to give an especially through presentation to a professional organization, offer to compensate for the time of the speaker whenever possible as it takes time to prepare for presentations.
If you find yourself running out of people to ask for favors, or you are always asking the same people to do you favors, it is time to expand your network. It is important to expand your network by attending events and joining organizations.
Expand your circle by helping someone first. Perhaps you could write a Linkedin recommendation for a vendor company representative that you connected with during a convention because he or she was great in customer service. Perhaps you could offer to take a colleague out for lunch for covering your patient calls when you are on vacation. There are many small favors we could do for others.
The famous saying, “Your network is your networth,” is definitely true.
Dr. Cathy Hung is a board-certified oral and maxillofacial surgeon with a solo practice in New Jersey. She is a certified professional life coach helping professionals, especially women and minorities, to tackle challenges and to excel in personal and professional life. Her book “Behind Her Scalpel: A Guide to Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery with Stories of Female Surgeons” was a project through her participation in ADA’s Institude for Diversity in Leadership, Class 2019-2020. She advocates DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) and women leadership.